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The Spirituality of Illness

April 28, 2008

In a matter of weeks, or maybe a few months, my heart will stop beating for the first time. After more than 43 years of activity, beating an average of 40 million times a year it will fall still and silent.

The plan is that having been cooled to stop it’s instinctive and life-giving movement, and the flow of blood diverted to complex machinery, a team of surgeons will operate, make some adjustments, before some other machine will shock it back into action again.

You see, I was diagnosed last November with an incompetent aortic valve which needs to be replaced or I will die sooner than I had hoped or planned. The journey of adjusting to this information has been an interesting and enlightening one, and one which has not yet been completed.

To date I have resisted blogging anything about it, though sharp-eyed readers may have noticed the appearance of health related posts in recent months. I have resisted it for a lot of reasons. I don’t want to be defined by my condition, though a degree of that will become necessary as the years (hopefully) go on. Nor do I want this blog to become a confessional diary of what I did or how I felt today, nor a exposition of open heart surgery. And, if I’m honest, I’m a private person, and the details of my condition are mine and my family’s.

But as I have been coming to terms with the awareness of serious illness I have become more aware of my religious culture’s discomfort with the reality of mortality, weakness, suffering and death (all cheerful stuff). As an incredibly healthy person until recently, I have had to look hard for spiritual resources in our relentlessly triumphant church environment which are robust enough to guide me on the way ahead. Whose going to want to sell/buy a book on this stuff, or write praise music about it?

What I’m going to try to do is use my current circumstances as a starting point for some reflection. I don’t imagine that it will be everyone’s beverage of choice, but there might be something here for you or for someone you know. The blog will not become about this matter alone, it won’t even primarily be about this, but I will salt a few posts away over the coming weeks and months that might just make you think a little about the ultimate questions.

Someone told me recently, that surgery changes you. You are not the same person after a visit to theatre. I genuinely hope and pray that is the case, in all ways. I know that the change has begun, and that I need to write about it. Maybe you’ll want to come along at least part of the way.

From → Formation, Reflection

  1. Hi Glenn. I think you will be surprised at how many people will be interested in a spirituality of illness. There is a culture of not acknowledging it much in churches but once you talk about it openly, its like giving people permission to talk to you about their own illness. Looking forward to where you go with this – maybe your own midrash type meditations on the darker parts of the bible. M

  2. Glenn,
    I look forward to what you learn and write. It’s hard to speak of any kind of suffering in our church culture. I picked up the recent bio of Mother Teresa a while back and was struck by the theology of suffering (embracing and participating in Christ’s sufferings) that she was steeped in. Now admittedly some of it strikes me as over the top, but triumphalism is just as over the top in the other direction. Interesting to see where you’ll come out…

    Blessings on your surgery. For what it’s worth, my otherwise healthy Mom survived two open-heart surgeries last year at age 79!

  3. pistolpete permalink

    I appreciate your candor and will keep you in prayer.

  4. Marti permalink

    Thanks for this post Glenn – and I hope you will give up-dates when you can.

    Take care

  5. Glenn — I look forward to sharing in your journey through your posts, whatever they may contain. The fact that you are facing open-eyed what may be ahead for you is an act of deep courage, something all of us in the “triumphant church” would do well to read and remember. That you can fellowship with Jesus in the midst of your suffering, that’s the greatest gift you can receive, and the greatest you can share with the rest of us who too often forget that suffering can be, at times, the very thing Jesus uses to pierce and rescue our souls.

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